Friday, August 31, 2007
My Dinner with Ron Jeremy
Ron, Craig, and Me at the Grill in Athens
It's 1am and Ron Jeremy is sitting in the front seat of my Mazda. This is funny for a couple of reasons - one being the fact that he's really too big to ever sit in a Mazda (I know what you were thinking when you read that last line, and you should be ashamed of yourself) and the other being that when I started driving at the age of 16 I never really thought one of my passengers would be a man considered by many to be the "Michael Jordan of Porn." To be honest, it's kind of blowing my mind. It's kind of a weird feeling to look at him and in my peripheral vision see my daughter's car seat in the back of the car. Don't worry - she wasn't there.
But even if she had been, there would have been no real reason to worry. Ron is not the enemy. This is not to say that I like what Ron does; on the contrary, I think porn is a misrepresentation of sex that is harmful to relationships, objectifies women, and is potentially addictive. That puts my views much more in line with the guy who's sitting in the back seat of my Mazda, my friend Craig, a pastor and one founder of xxxChurch.com, an anti-pornography web community that seeks to spread awareness of porn's harmful potential and to build relationships with those in the adult industry. Earlier in the evening, he and Ron shared a University of Georgia stage and debated pornography's negative effects (or lack there of if you choose to side with Ron), and after a late dinner downtown, I am dropping them off at their hotel.
It's pretty safe to say that Craig and Ron are on opposites of the spectrum ideologically, philosophically, spiritually, etc., and in our culture, it seems that most Christians are content to keep it that way. Sure, we all want Ron and people in the adult industry (as well as all other sorts who fall into the category of "sinners") to accept Christ and become Christians, but we also want to keep those same kinds of people as far away from us as possible as to not risk them dirtying up our own holy whiteness. Rather than engaging our faith, we often choose to keep it under lock and key to prevent someone like Ron from stealing it. We'll talk about loving while we condemn them to hell from across the street. So in this context, it's weird to see two guys such as these get along, much less ride in the same tiny Mazda. But again; Ron is not the enemy (though we often treat him as such). And while I would much rather have my daughter grow up in a world without the kind of movies Ron makes or the industry for which he works, I don't hate him or wish him ill. In fact, I really kind of like the guy.
But then again, Ron is a likeable fellow. Sitting at the table at this diner in Athens over dinner, Ron is very comfortable being the center of attention. And by the way he effortlessly slides into a well-seasoned schtick, I imagine that he is the center of attention just about everywhere he goes. If this were high school, Ron would be that guy who could sit at any table in the lunchroom (and possibly the kind of guy who would take the lunch money from guys like me. But I digress...). Ron is gracious and kind and polite, never complaining when people interrupt his dinner to get pictures or autographs or in the case of one cook from the back of the diner, bow in honor. He seems very genuine, expressing his honest opinions (carefully crafted to maximize storytelling impact) about whatever topic comes up or comes to mind, including Christianity and religion in general. Ultimately, Ron simply wants to have a good time, and he wants you to have a good time, too. In a lot of ways he seems really normal, and you almost forget that his job is to have sex with strangers with a camera crew at the ready.
The debate held earlier was great. It was sold out, and over 800 UGA students showed up, mostly to see Ron and get new photos for their Facebook profiles. Neither Craig nor Ron pulled any punches, both speaking passionately from opposing viewpoints; both guys were also respectful and courteous to each other despite their polar opposite viewpoints. Beyond the pros and cons of looking at porn, and beyond all the statistics both for and against, though, it is this genuine friendship between these two guys that is the most intriguing thing to me about these debates. Both Ron and Craig are unmoving when it comes to how they feel about pornography, but as quickly as the debate is finished they are no longer "opponents" and are simply two guys who will set each other up for jokes while taking any opportunity to make fun of the other. Craig even snatched Ron's pants down a couple of times on tour, a favor Ron has attempted to return. And when asked after the debate where he wants to eat dinner, Ron's response is simply, "Wherever Craig wants to go is where I want to go."
Ron likes what Craig does. He says, "Craig helps the people who shouldn't be in porn get out of porn," but he is also quick to point out that you don't hear any of the big stars in the adult industry talking about how bad it is. It's always the ones at the bottom, the ones who maybe couldn't hack it. I would say that he's partially right about that; thus far, no huge porn star has come forward to agree with Craig or to publicly denounce the industry. At least not yet.
Ron is Jewish, but he says he's not particularly religious. He even has this routine about how he's praying to everyone to keep his bases covered. But it's clear that somewhere in him there is at least a small, growing desire to know the truth. Unprompted, he brings up some of his questions about Christianity. How can someone who kills someone simply accept Christ minutes before death and enter the gates of Heaven while someone of a different belief who never willfully harms anyone dies and spends eternity in hell? Don't we all ask these questions at some point?
And that's why his statement, "Wherever Craig wants to go is where I want to go," sounds more like a prayer of the heart than a declaration of where to eat. Sure, you can say he was just talking about getting some food, but maybe it goes a little deeper than that. Certainly, I'm not going to attempt to play armchair psychologist or take a swing at prophecy. But I will say that when I hear him say that it's hard for him to have long-term relationships or that true love is finding one person and growing old together, I can see that there is a lot more to Ron Jeremy than making porn. He has a Masters degree in Special Education, for crying out loud. But for 29 years he has been the biggest name in porn, and in that time he has become a pop culture icon. Everywhere he goes there are crowds of people who look at him with awe and admiration, and as Craig says, he's probably one of the only 54 year old men in the world who can walk into a club full of women and know with confidence that he could probably sleep with any of them later that night. For someone who is not particularly religious, you can understand why that life would be a hard one to give up.
In the grand scheme of things, I don't think these debates will change a lot of peoples' feelings about porn; if you loved it before you'll probably still love it afterwards. But I really think they might just help change Ron's life. It was really only about porn on the surface anyway; if you dig a little deeper, I think you would see that it's really about being willing to share in the lives of those who don't look like you or believe like you. To see what happens when we become discontented with hanging out at one end of the spectrum and decide to get our hands a little dirty. Not to fear losing our faith but to engage our faith, to put ourselves in a position to see our faith in action in the world around us. Hearing Craig talk about some of these experiences, I can only imagine how hard this is at times. I would also say it matters. It's not really about Craig, either - in this case he an example of someone who is simply willing to be at times uncomfortable so that through that Ron would one day hear God telling him how much he loves him. That's what this debate was about to me - the hope that Ron would know the truth for himself and that the truth would set him free. Seems like a lot of time and resources to spend on something like that, doesn't it? But that's the kind of precedent Christ has set for us - to pursue us at any cost.
But while that's my idea of a happy ending, that's not what today looks like. Today, I would have to say you're right, Ron - right now no big porn stars have left the industry. But still, I'm holding on to the hope that someday one will, and Ron, I really hope it's you.